BORN: 1926, San Giano, Lombardy, Italy
Archangels Don't Play Pinball (1959)
He Who Steals Foot Is Lucky in Love (1961)
It's Always the Devil's Fault (1965)
Comic Mystery (1969)
Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970)
For more than fifty years, Italian playwright Dario Fo has been a central figure in theater. His preoccupation has always been to question and denounce the injustices imposed on human beings around the world, and although his theater has used comedy to expose the corruption, dishonesty, and arrogance of the powerful, he has always provoked serious reactions throughout the world. Fo's ideological stance has always been accompanied by a personal commitment, beyond the theater, to help and support those who suffer.
Creativity in Family Tree Fo was born in San Giano, Italy, on March 24, 1926. His father, Felice, was a railway stationmaster and a socialist, while his mother, Pina Rota, was an educated woman of peasant origin and tradition. Fo's parents were not insensitive to the appeal of art and culture. His father was an amateur actor, and his mother had written a critically acclaimed autobiographical book, The Nation of Frogs (1970). Fo's grandfather, Giuseppe Rota, was a natural-born storyteller and was also important to the boy's development as a performer and playwright. In an early interview, Fo traced his own talent for theater and literature to this grandparent.
Interrupted Schooling In 1940, Fo enrolled at the Accademia d'Arte di Brera to study architecture, but was unable to attend his courses because of the outbreak of World War II. The war in Europe began because of the territorial ambitions of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Germany, which had been heavily penalized after losing World War I, sought to regain its stature and invested heavily in its military in the early 1930s. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany. France, and later the United States, allied with Britain, to form the Allied Powers while Italy, among others, including Japan and various central and eastern European powers, allied with Germany to form the Axis Powers.
Italy was ruled by its own fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, for much of the war. However, defeats in Greece and North Africa and the invasion of Sicily by the United States and its allies, led to the end of Mussolini's regime in July 1943. Italy was soon divided into two warring zones. One was in the south and controlled by the Allies, while the north, including Rome, was controlled by the Germans, who formed the Italian Social Republic with Mussolini as its head. German power eventually collapsed, and the Axis Powers lost the war. Mussolini was later executed for his role in the conflict.
This period is nonetheless important, because Fo befriended intellectuals who later dominated the landscape of Italian culture in the 1960s and 1970s. These friends included Carlo Lizzani, Elio Vittorini, Carlo Bo, and Gillo Pontecorvo. His family took an active part in the antifascist resistance, and Fo helped his father to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers to Switzerland, while his mother cared for wounded partisans. After Italy was divided in 1943, Fo was conscripted into the army of the Italian Social Republic. He managed to escape, however, and hid until the end of the war.
Theatrical Beginnings After the war, Fo continued his studies in Milan at the faculty of architecture of the Politecnico. He never completed his curriculum for graduation, but he got a part-time job as an assistant architect and began to draw theater scenes and to exhibit his paintings and drawings. He also began to frequent the Milan theatrical scene, where his encounter with the actor and theater manager Franco Parenti turned out to be decisive for his future career. Fo became involved in the “small theatre” (community theater) movement, where he performed improvised monologues. In 1950, he started to work for a theater company led by Parenti. In 1951, Fo performed “Poor Little Thing,” a series of satirical monologues, as part of the revue Seven Days in Milan at the Teatro Odeon in Milan. It was his first
experience in an “official” theater. Parenti also introduced Fo into the Italian State Broadcasting Company, RAI, where Fo performed his monologues on the radio program Chicchirichi that year.
In 1953 and 1954, working in collaboration with Parenti and Giustino Durano, Fo was the author and actor of the shows A Finger in the Eye (1953) and Fit to Be Tied Up (1954), which were staged at the Piccolo Teatro of Milan. Both shows experienced censorship interference due to their anti-government content.
Brief Foray into Film In 1955, Fo and his wife, Franca Rame, worked in movie production in Rome. Fo became a screenwriter and worked on many productions, having signed a contract with the Dino de Laurentiis Film Company. In 1956, he was the coauthor and lead actor of The Duffer. The film was a commercial failure.
In 1959, the Company Fo-Rame was established, and for the next nine years opened each theater season at the Odeon in Milan with a new play or show. In addition to taking part in her husband's comedies, Rame took charge of the administrative responsibilities of the company, while Fo focused more on playwriting and acting.
Finding a Dramatic Voice Fo's activity as a dramatist had begun in the 1950s, when he wrote seven farces that were collected and performed later under the titles Thieves, Dummies and Naked Women (1958) and Final Gag (1958). He wrote his first three “regular” plays between 1959 and 1961: Archangels Don't Play Pinball (1959), He Had Two Pistols with White and Black Eyes (1960), and He Who Steals a Foot Is Lucky in Love (1961). These early plays represent Fo's willingness to find a personal and original voice in the theatrical panorama of Italian playwriting of the 1960s.
As Fo began finding his dramatic voice, Italy was recovering from the effects of World War II. When the war ended, Italy was poverty-stricken and politically fragmented. Reconstituted as a republic in 1946, the country soon adopted a new constitution, though it nearly collapsed because of the physical and economic devastation of the war. After receiving foreign assistance in the early 1950s, Italy rebounded economically and experienced unprecedented development through the 1950s and 1960s.
Political Revolution and ARCI In Europe throughout the early twentieth century, many intellectuals and artists embraced communism and a viable, desirable alternative to the nationalistic totalitarian regimes of the past. The growing political dominance of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe after World War II caused many to reconsider their connection to the communist party. In Italy, many members and supporters of the Italian Communist Party abandoned the organization. Fo had never become a member of the Italian Communist Party, while Rame did, but regarded the group with the utmost interest and believed that the needs of the working class were best met through communism. For this reason, he decided to cooperate with ARCI (the Communist Party association for recreation and culture, with a membership of about one million). After dissolving the Company Fo-Rame, he founded the Company New Scene. The new company toured Italy and other countries to stage their works in places that reflected their social engagement, such as circuses, squares, culture clubs, university assembly halls, and factories occupied by striking workers.
Attacking America During this period, Fo staged two new plays, Throw the Lady Out (1967) and Grand Pantomime with Flags and Small, Middle-Sized and Large Puppets (1968). Both plays are satires set in circuses, and both attack the United States for its capitalist, consumerist culture and its involvement in the Vietnam War. Comments made in the play about President John F. Kennedy's assassination were considered so outrageous, especially in the United States, that President Lyndon Johnson and American authorities denied Fo a visa to enter the country. This prohibition remained in effect until 1986.
Fo's Masterpiece The year 1969 was a crucial year for Fo's art and career. He completed the first version of Comic Mystery, widely considered his masterpiece. The play drew criticism, however, on grounds of supposed irreverence and blasphemy.
A dramatic incident at the end of 1969 marked Fo both personally and artistically. A bomb killed nineteen people in a bank in Piazza Fontana, Milan. This brutal, anonymous attack started what became known as “the season of bombs,” a period of increased violence, killings, and bomb attacks in Italy. Fo believed high-ranking members of the government were behind the attacks. In 1970, he staged Accidental Death of an Anarchist, inspired by the Piazza Fontana incident and centering on the death of the anarchist Pino Pinelli at the police headquarters of Milan in 1969.
A New Play in a New Theater In 1973, Fo, Rame, and the members of their theater company occupied an old abandoned building in Milan called Palazzina Liberty. After completely restoring it, including its theater, they opened the new structure in 1974 with We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay! This play, about a tax protest by housewives, features one of Fo's most famous gags: two women steal regularly from a supermarket, concealing items under their overcoats as if they were pregnant.
Woman's Work The works that followed had contemporary value: Fanfani Kidnapped (1975) was written against the background of the political election that year, and Mother's Marijuana Is the Best (1976) deals with the increasing problem of drug use among young working-class Italians. Toward the end of the 1970s, Fo wrote for and with Rame a series of one-act plays and monologues
about the female condition, including All House, Bed and Church (1977). This series of one-act plays was highly successful, even though Rame stated on opening night that perhaps the only flaw of the work was that Fo wrote most of it, and, his being “unequivocally a man” he was “unable to penetrate the contradictions, humiliations and harassments to which we [women] are subject.” Notwithstanding this flaw, the play series was staged all over Europe, Canada, and the United States.
As the cooperation in playwriting with Rame had been so fruitful, Fo continued the experience, producing more monologues for actors. In 1978, Fo completed the third version of Comic Mystery. He also rewrote and directed Story of a Soldier, based on Igor Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale (1918).
The Moro Affair Letters Fo could not avoid being interested in the Moro Affair, probably the most shocking political crime in the history of the Italian Republic. In March 1978, a commando of the Red Brigades (a clandestine revolutionary Communist organization) kidnapped Aldo Moro, premier and leader of the Christian Democratic Party. The Tragedy of Aldo Moro, published in the periodical Quotidiano dei lavoratori in June 1979, is an intensely dramatic work, based on the letters Moro wrote from the place where he was kept. In spite of the interest of the theme and the considerable artistic value of the text, the play has never been performed publicly.
American Ban Lifted American authorities suspended their ban on Fo's entry into the country in 1984. Two years later he toured the United States, presenting his works and lecturing in many theaters and universities.
After The Pope and the Witch (1989)—a harsh criticism of the authorities managing the centers for drug addiction, prevention, and care—Fo turned to the issue of AIDS with Quiet! We Are All Falling! in 1990. He wrote Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (1990), then turned to the sixteenth century to write an adaptation on the works of an anticlassist in Dario Fo Recites Ruzzante (1993). In 1993, Fo also wrote Mama! The Sans-Culottes!, a metaphorical play that is based on an actual event, an attempted coup d'état in Italy by the military supported by sections of the Secret Service. Beginning with this play, Fo became more interested in problems regarding the Italian justice system, focusing particularly on the pressures exerted against judges who only wish to do their duty.
Illness and Recovery On July 17, 1995, Fo was disabled and almost lost his sight because of an attack of cerebral ischemia (decreased supply of blood to the brain, often caused by blockage or obstruction of supplying blood vessels). He recovered within a year and returned to the stage in 1996 with The Emperor's Bible, the Peasants' Bible, derived, as the author has stated, from an “illuminated codex of the ninth century.” He also revisited corruption with his play The Devil with Tits (1997). Also in 1997, Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, causing an uproar in some intellectual circles in Italy. Aside from the controversial nature of many of his plays, opponents felt that his work was mere clowning and did not have the literary merit to deserve the prize. Fo, delighted by the uproar, turned his Nobel lecture into another performance. With the money from the prize, Fo and Rame founded The Nobel for the Disabled, an organization dedicated to assisting the handicapped.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Fo presented several more themes of personal and public interest—including works on justice and The Holy Jester Francis (1999), which suggested St. Francis of Assisi was the first jester ever known. In 2007, Fo published his memoirs, My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More). The book shares his childhood in Italy and reiterates the greatest influences on his art. He continues to live in Italy and produce original works.
Influenced by his paternal grandfather's story-telling ability as well as his own passion for current events, Fo's themes are typically those that interest him personally and the contemporary society as a whole. The themes preferred by Fo, especially in later years, have been those that, above all, address the issues of injustice and discrimination in the world.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Fo's famous contemporaries include:
Don Arden (1926–2007): The English music manager who represented such artists and groups as Black Sabbath, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), and Small Faces.
César Chávez (1927–1993): The Mexican American farmworker who was also an activist and civil rights leader. He cofounded the National Farm Workers Association.
Robert Bly (1926–): An American poet and activist. He founded the Mythopoetic Men's Movement. Bly's books include Iron John: A Book about Men (1990).
Hugh Hefner (1926–): An American entrepreneur who is the famous founder of Playboy Enterprises.
Todd Matshikiza (1921–1968): A South African jazz pianist, composer, and activist who was instrumental in apartheid resistance efforts and who was subsequently exiled by the South African government. His works include the choral piece Makhapiphile (1953).
Comic Style for Serious Themes Fo has always perceived himself as a modern jester, one who has assigned
himself the task of denouncing—by means of jokes and mockery—what he finds wrong with society. Some of his most serious themes are treated in comic fashion by his using grotesque comedy or presenting in farce.
Quiet! We Are All Falling! can be defined as a grotesque situation comedy—in which a concoction of themes is dealt with in a way that enhances the monstrous features of power—even if people have become accustomed to them to a point that they have become unaware of their true nature. Grand Pantomime with Flags and Small, Middle-Sized and Large Puppets (1968) is a popular farce that starts to explore fascism and evolves into political slurs against the bourgeoisie (middle class), the military, and the Catholic hierarchy. He Had Two Pistols is farce, and at the same time it tends to evoke more the tones and atmospheres of dark or black comedy.
Fo's comedies have met with government censorship. Yet, many have also been received by the general public and by entertainment and literary critics with much respect and praise. His farce A Finger in the Eye was a critical and commercial success. Fit to Be Tied Up was frequently sold out. Other plays have not fared as well, such as He Who Steals a Foot Is Lucky in Love and It's Always the Devil's Fault.
He Who Steals a Foot Is Lucky in Love In He Who Steals a Foot the myth of Apollo and Daphne is revisited, yet deprived of any classical dignity. It is cast in a farcical light that stresses the popular and possibly vulgar developments of the theme. This event triggers a freewheeling succession of misunderstandings, gags, and misrepresentations. Paolo Puppa, in his Dario Fo's Theater: From the Stage to the Piazza (1978), regarded this comedy as the “most bookish” of Fo's plays.
It's Always the Devil's Fault In the 1965 It's Always the Devil's Fault, Fo relies largely on quick-changing disguises and fast rhythm. The action develops without any delays until the farcical ending, when the play's heretics rebel, claiming their long-denied rights. This play did not receive positive reviews from the critics. As Piero Novelli wrote in Gazzetta del Popolo, it was so overloaded with gags and scene changes that it created genuine confusion on stage.
- Using you library and the Internet, research the elements of farce, grotesque comedy, and black comedy. How do Fo's plays fit these categories?
- While reading Fo's plays, mark or highlight sections you think might be offensive to certain groups of people. Do you think Fo intended to be offensive? What purposes might giving offense serve?
- Those interested in the social and political history of Europe following World War II should read Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (2006), by Tony Judt. Judt, an academic historian, provides a highly readable and carefully researched portrait of the birth of modern Europe.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Here are a few works by writers who have also written on themes of social injustice:
Freedom Songs (1991), a novel by Yvette Moore. In this novel for young adults, the author explores the life of one family living in the early 1960s and the impact of the civil rights movement on their lives.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), a novel by Harper Lee. In this novel, human dignity is nearly destroyed but restored when the humanitarian lawyer Atticus Finch goes to court.
Maus (1977), a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. In this unusual but provocative format for the story of the Holocaust, the Jewish people are portrayed as mice and the Nazis are depicted as cats.
The U.S.A. Trilogy (1938), three novels by John Dos Passos. In this collection of three novels, the author uses innovative literary techniques to explore the development of America in the early twentieth century. The books examine such issues as the treatment of immigrants, urban blight, and the rise of unions.
Farrell, Joseph, and Antonio Scuder, eds.Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.
Hirst, David. Dario Fo and Franca Rame. London: Macmillan, 1989.
Österling, Anders. Nobel Prize for Literature Presentation Speech. Stockholm: Nobel Foundation, 1963.
Puppa, Paolo. Dario Fo's Theater: From the Stage to the Piazza. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Cherici, Maurizio. Interview with Dario Fo. Il Corriera della Sera (July 2, 1993).
Novelli, Piero. Review of It's Always the Devil's Fault. Gazzetta del Popolo (September 11, 1965).
Publishers Weekly. Review of My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More) (August 14, 2006): 193.
Books and Writers. Dario Fo (1926–). Retrieved March 18, 2008, from http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dariofo.htm.
Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Archivio. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from http://www.archivio.francarame.it/home.html.
Nobel Prize Foundation. Dario Fo Nobel Lecture. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1997/fo-lecture-e.html.
Italian playwright Dario Fo (born 1926) is known for his satirical and often controversial works. He was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Although he has been hailed by critics worldwide for his acting abilities and especially for his artful, satirical works that convey his leftist ideology, Italian playwright Dario Fo was an unexpected winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature. Fo, who according to the press release from the Swedish Academy, "emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden," was by his own admission "amazed" to learn that he had won the prestigious award, according to an article by Chicago Tribune contributor Tom Hundley. The Nobel committee's choice was indeed unpopular among many segments of the world population, especially with the Italian government and with the Roman Catholic Church, which have both been favorite targets of Fo's in such works as A Madhouse for the Sane and Mistero buffo. According to an article by the New York Times's Celestine Bohlen, "the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said it was flabbergasted by [Fo's] selection. 'Giving the prize to someone who is also the author of questionable works is beyond all imagination,' the paper said."
Fo was born on March 24, 1926, in San Giano, a small fishing village in northern Italy where his father, Felice, was a railroad stationmaster and part-time actor. His father and the local storytellers provided the young Fo with his first lessons in the art of dramatic presentation, and he emulated their animated gestures and vocalizations in his own acting performances. He attended the Academia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) in Milan, but left without earning a degree, instead opting to write plays and perform with several improvisational theatre groups. Fo's first success as a playwright came with his 1953 work, Il dito nell'occhio (A Finger in the Eye), which was a social satire that presented Marxist concepts with a circus-like backdrop.
Early Works Prove Controversial
Fo became an outspoken opponent of the Italian government with his 1954 play, I sani de legare (A Madhouse for the Sane), which charged several government officials with being fascist sympathizers; the government ordered Fo to cut some of the original material from his script and mandated the presence of state inspectors at each performance of the play to ensure that Italian libel laws were not being broken. Between 1956 and 1958 Fo worked as a screenwriter in Rome, but he returned to the stage and began to produce, along with his wife, actress and playwright Franca Rame, a less conspicuously political variety of satirical plays. Of the works produced during this period of his career, Fo's best is considered by many to be 1959's Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper (Archangels Don't Play Pinball), which was the first of his plays to be staged outside of Italy.
In 1968 Fo and Rame, with the support of the Italian communist party, formed Nuova Scena, a nonprofit theatre organization whose works were aimed at the working class audience; the couple's decision to form the group was prompted by their rejection of the theatrical establishment. Nuova Scena productions were marked by an intensely radical tone and dealt with political issues of the time. In one such work, 1968's Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi piccoli e medi (Grand Pantomime with Flags and Small and Medium-Sized Puppets), Fo took a satirical look at Italy's political history following World War II, depicting the way in which he believed the communist party had given in to the temptation of capitalism; the Italian communist party withdrew its support of Nuova Scena following the production of Grand Pantomime, and Fo and Rame formed Il Colletive Teatrale La Comune, known as La Comune, in 1970.
Mistero buffo Produced
Fo was highly popular during the 1960s, perhaps due to the prevailing feelings of social and political upheaval that marked that decade and provided him with exposure to a much broader audience than any with which he had previously been acquainted. Mistero buffo (The Comic Mystery), considered by many to be Fo's foremost work for the stage as well as his most controversial, was first produced in 1969. Although the actual script is improvised and thus changes with each performance, the narrative always involves a depiction of events based upon the gospels of the Bible's New Testament presented in a disparaging manner that accuses the Catholic church, landowners, and the government of persecuting the masses. Fo took the idea for this play from the Middle Ages, when traveling performers known as giullari would enact medieval mystery plays in the streets; in Fo's production, a single actor Fo himself performs the series of sketches on an empty stage, introducing each segment with a short prologue and linking them together, portraying as many as a dozen characters at one time. The parables from the gospels portrayed in Mistero buffo include the resurrection of Lazarus, with pickpockets who steal from those who witness the miracle, the story of a crippled man who avoids Jesus' healing power because he makes a good living as a beggar, and a scornful depiction of the corrupt activities of Pope Boniface VIII.
Mistero buffo was broadcast on television in 1977, and, according to an Atlantic Monthly article by Charles C. Mann, the Vatican proclaimed the work to be "the most blasphemous" program ever televised; Fo was, as Mann reported, delighted with the church officials' response. Despite the church's disapproval, or perhaps because of it, Mistero buffo was a popular success throughout Europe; when it was performed in London in 1983, the revenue brought in by the play was enough to save the theatre in which it was produced from financial ruin. Fo and Rame were eventually given permission to enter the United States in 1986, after having been denied visas in both 1980 and 1984 because of reports that they had helped to raise funds to support an Italian terrorist organization; the couple denied taking part in any such activities. Mistero buffo opened in New York City in the spring of 1986, and was hailed by the New York Times's Ron Jenkins as "a brilliant one-man version of biblical legends and church history" whose humor "echo[es] the rhythms of revolt."
In response to the premature death of anarchist railway worker Giuseppi Pinelli in 1969, Fo composed the absurdist play Morte accidentale di un anarchico (Accidental Death of an Anarchist), which was the only one of his plays produced during his La Comune period to become an enduring favorite and a popular success. Pinelli's death was, Fo believed, the result of a plot by right-wing extremist members of the Italian military and secret service to undermine the credibility of the Italian Communist party by executing a string of bombings and making it appear that they were the work of leftist terrorists. Pinelli was charged with the 1969 bombing of the Agricultural Bank of Milan, one of the most devastating of the bombings that killed numerous innocent bystanders. At some point during the time in which the railway worker was held for interrogation by police in Milan, he fell later it was argued that he was pushed from a window on the fourth floor of police headquarters.
In Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Fo's play based on the events surrounding Pinelli's death, Fo uses a character known as the maniac to reveal the attempts by the police to cover up the truth. In an article in American Theatre, Fo observed: "When I injected absurdity into the situation, the lies became apparent. The maniac plays the role of the judge, taking the logic of the authorities to their absurd extremes." In this way, Fo was able to demonstrate that Pinelli was murdered, and could not have died accidentally as the police maintained. Los Angeles Times contributor John Lahr reported that around the time Accidental Death of an Anarchist was first staged Fo was assaulted and imprisoned and Rame was kidnapped and brutalized as punishment for their part in exposing the police cover-up.
Fo Popular in Europe
Accidental Death of an Anarchist was enormously popular in Italy, and attracted large audiences during the four years following its first production. In a review of the play in New Society, John Lahr proclaimed it "loud, vulgar, kinetic, scurrilous, smart, [and] sensational…. Everything theatre should be." Although the play was also popular in London, where it ran successfully for two and a half years, it failed to win over audiences in the United States in 1984, when it opened and closed within a matter of months.
Most commentators assert that Fo's plays are not as popular with American audiences as they are with European audiences because they are loosely translated into English or performed in Italian, and because they are based upon historical, political, and social events that even if they are known to Americans are not as significant to them as they are to Europeans. New York Times contributor Mel Gussow contended that "dealing with topical Italian materials in colloquial Italian language … presents problems for adapters and directors." Specifically, critics faulted as distracting the use of an onstage translator during an American performance of Mistero buffo, and characterized a production based upon the English translation of Accidental Death of an Anarchist as considerably less effective than the original Italian production. The New York Times's Frank Rich declared that the insertion of puns based on contemporary American occurrences into the script of Accidental Death by adapter Richard Nelson served to "wreck the play's farcical structure and jolt both audience and cast out of its intended grip."
During the 1980s Fo collaborated extensively with Rame, and the couple produced several plays with distinctly feminist themes. Their most successful of these plays was Tutta casa, letto e chiesa, which is comprised of eight monologues that focus on women's position in a male-dominated society. The work, which includes a varying number and combination of the eight monologues in each production, was performed in England and the United States under several different titles, including Woman Plays, Female Parts, and Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo. According to the Washington Post's David Richards, who reviewed an American production of the play, although the play is admirably candid, because it depicts a brand of sexism practiced more commonly in Italy, the play "may have lost some of its punch crossing the Atlantic," noting that to American audiences "the women in Orgasmo seem to be fighting battles that have long been conceded on these shores." Another of Fo and Rame's woman-centered plays, 1974's No se paga! No se paga! (We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!), concerns a group of homemakers who organize a boycott of their local supermarket to protest its outrageous prices; this play was a moderate success in the United States when it was produced Off-Broadway in 1980 and enjoyed a fairly lengthy run.
Fo has continued to produce works that provoke anger and controversy. His 1992 play, The Pope and the Witch, which has as its subject a news conference during which the Pope, as described by New York Times contributor Celestine Bohlen, "confuses a children's gathering in St. Peter's Square with an abortion rights rally," incited fury among Catholics worldwide. His 1997 play, Devil with Boobs, is, according to Bohlen, "a comedy set in the Renaissance featuring a zealous judge and a woman possessed by the devil." Fo has also continued to appear in productions of his works, and his acting style has been compared to that of the members of the comedy troupe Monty Python, but most often Fo as an actor is "compared to the comedian Lenny Bruce for his activism, scatological humor, sarcasm and barely submerged bitterness," as New York Times contributor Rick Lyman related. Nevertheless, Lyman continued, a comparison between Bruce and Fo "ignores a chameleonlike aspect to [Fo's] performances that recalls [comedian] Sid Caesar. In a style reminiscent of Mr. Caesar's double-talk routines, Mr. Fo uses a gibberish called 'grammelot,' often accompanied by a 'translator.' The language is a jumble of syllables that evokes, without actually simulating, Italian, French and American technological jargon."
Fo Awarded Nobel Prize
Because his works have invited such tremendous controversy throughout the world, and because although some of his plays have been successful outside of Italy he is by far more popular and well-known to Italians than to the rest of the world, it was a shock to many when it was announced that Fo would receive the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature. The announcement, according to the New York Times's Bohlen, was greeted with "the guarded amazement of Italy's literary establishment and the outright dismay of the Vatican." In its press release, published on the Nobel Prize Internet Archive, the Swedish Academy declared that Fo's plays "simultaneously amuse, engage and provide perspectives…. Hisisan oeuvre of impressive artistic vitality and range." Despite the furor surrounding his selection as a Nobel laureate, Fo has maintained his characteristic irreverence; as related in an unsigned article in the Chicago Tribune covering his news conference to discuss his prize, Fo remarked on the controversy surrounding his selection: "God is a jester because he bitterly disappointed a lot of people, including the Vatican newspaper. I feel almost guilty, but it was a great joke on them." Fo's plans as a Nobel laureate have included using his status to promote the fight for civil rights in such countries as China, Algeria, Turkey, and Argentina, and donating portions of his $1 million prize to the movement to ban the use of land mines and to aid the legal defense of three men Fo has steadfastly proclaimed their innocence prosecuted for the 1971 murder of the police officer who was in charge of interrogating Giuseppe Pinelli, the railway worker whose death was the inspiration for Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist. At the time he announced his intentions for his prize money, Fo had already outlined a sequel to Accidental Death based upon one of the accused men's struggle to prove his innocence.
American Theatre, June 1986.
Atlantic Monthly, September 1985.
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1997; October 10, 1997; October 11, 1997; November 6, 1997.
Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1983; January 21, 1983.
New Society, March 13, 1980, pp. 559-60.
New York Times, December 18, 1980; April 17, 1983; August 5, 1983; August 14, 1983; August 27, 1983; February 15, 1984; October 31, 1984; November 16, 1984; May 29, 1986; May 30, 1986; May 9, 1987; November 27, 1987; October 10, 1997.
Washington Post, August 27, 1983; November 17, 1984; January 17, 1985; June 12, 1986.
Nobel Prize Internet Archive, http://www.almaz.com (October 9, 1997).
Swedish Academy Press Release, The Permanent Secretary, Nobel Prize Internet Archive, http://www.almaz.com (October 9, 1997).